Financial services lobbyists say the pact between Sen. Phil Gramm and Rep. Jim Leach to jointly draft a compromise financial reform bill by Friday is welcome evidence that the legislation has newfound momentum.
The plan, unveiled Thursday at a meeting of the 66-member conference committee, calls for a final day of full-committee debate sometime this week. After that, the two Republican lawmakers and House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr., R-Va., will meet behind closed doors to put together what Sen. Gramm labeled a "compromise" bill.
The full committee would then have two days next week to offer amendments on the draft before voting on the entire package by Oct. 20. Presuming the bill was approved, the full House and Senate would then vote on it. Congress is scheduled to finish for the year on Oct. 29, though that date could easily slip.
Thursday "was the first time they set a hard deadline and said, 'We're going to meet it,'" said Leigh Ann Pusey, lobbyist at the American Insurance Association.
"There certainly is momentum," said Ronald K. Ence, lobbyist at the Independent Community Bankers of America. "If you compare the movement that was going on in August, it's like night and day."
"My heart is lighter today," said Annie Hall, a lobbyist at Bank One Corp. of Chicago.
Though Rep. Leach and Sen. Gramm said they would consider the wishes of the minority party, Democratic lawmakers responded angrily at being left out of the bill-drafting process. One Democrat sarcastically referred to the Republican leadership as "the three wise men." Meanwhile, lobbyists had mixed views about how the party politics will play out.
"I don't think that the leaders of this conference will put together a package that would deliberately alienate the White House," Ms. Pusey said. "I think you can take the chairmen at their word," said Brian C. Conklin, president of the Financial Services Council. "They said they'll make every attempt to keep it bipartisan."
Karen Shaw Petrou, president of the ISD/Shaw consulting firm, said industry lobbyists do not actually care if the bill is partisan, so long as it gets passed. But she predicted doom in the form of a presidential veto. "This issue is shaping up as one in which the minority takes the football and walks off the field in a huff," she said.
Privately, several lobbyists said the Republican plan was a procedural victory for Sen. Gramm, who all along argued that the bill should be drafted behind closed doors. "I think Gramm is now in the driver's seat," one remarked.
But Ms. Hall disagreed, arguing that Sen. Gramm acceded to Rep. Leach's accelerated timetable for passage. "I don't think Mr. Leach ate crow," she said.
Several hours before Thursday's conference, the Financial Services Coordinating Council -- a new, cross-industry lobby that comprises five bank, insurance, and securities industry trade groups -- held its first public event, a press conference urging lawmakers to enact financial reform.
"This bill must pass," said Carroll A. Campbell Jr., president of the American Council of Life Insurance.